Rabbits are highly social and intelligent animals – giving your rabbit the space to roam, opportunities to be inquisitive and a place to just generally be a rabbit is so important. By providing your rabbit with barren and confined housing, you are not providing them with the correct environment. Rabbits have complex environmental and behavioural needs and as a pet owner, it is your responsibility by law to ensure they live in a suitable environment.
The Rabbit Welfare Association and Fund gave us some basic tips to ensure your rabbit lives a happy life, including homing rabbits in pairs, providing running space for your rabbit and feeding them the correct diet – but added enrichment is also important.
A large empty space for your rabbit to run around isn’t enough. Rabbits need mental stimulation and opportunities to exert natural behaviours such as digging, climbing, hiding and foraging. However, you don’t need to spend a lot of money to enrich your rabbit’s life! We have sourced our favourite inexpensive ways you can give your rabbit a happy home.
Rabbit Behaviour #1 – Digging
Find yourself falling down rabbit holes when you are out in the countryside? With underground warrens housing our populations of wild rabbits, its not hard to understand why our pet bunnies enjoy having a good dig. That doesn’t mean they need to dig up your pansies in order to have a good time though! Here are some cheap ways to encourage your rabbit’s natural digging behaviour.
1. A homemade digging box
Very simple! Find a box (perhaps a old plastic storage box or cardboard box) and fill it with soil, sand, hay, stripped newspaper or a mixture of these and let your bunny dig away! The simple act of digging should amuse your rabbit, but if you wanted to make it a bit more fun you could hide some bonus treats amongst the mess.
2. Old towels and rugs
Aside from the pure joy of digging, does (female rabbits) often have the urge to build nests. If you have an indoor bunny and would like to reduce the amount of mess she can make, instead of the above, try giving her an old blanket, rug or towel to rummage around in and arrange into a cozy nest.
Rabbit Behaviour #2 – Burrowing
As rabbits are natural prey animals, having somewhere to scuttle of to when they feel vulnerable is very important. This is also important if you have more than one rabbit as it is natural for rabbits to have a pecking order, which can lead to “disagreements” – make sure they can hide away and give each other space if they have a a falling out (for any continued bullying, it is always recommended you consult your vet). Use these items to give your rabbits somewhere to hide away at the drop of an ear!
3. Cardboard boxes
For something that is quite easy to get hold of for free, a cardboard box can give hours of amusement to most pets, and rabbits are no exception. From making a small hole to encourage them to create a hiding place, to filling it with hay so they can burrow away, you can be as creative as you like with a cardboard box. Boxes are also a great way to create lookout points for your rabbits so they can hop up and survey their surroundings as they would in the wild.
4. Flower pots and baskets
A large pot placed side ways (secured into place so it doesn’t roll), or an old wicker basket filled with hay can make the perfect quick hide away, whilst not taking up too much space. Be careful your rabbit doesn’t chew too much on the plastic though!
5. Ready-made tunnels
Plastic or cardboard tunnels mimic the dirt tunnels of rabbit warrens perfectly – there could no better place for a rabbit to dart to safety, or bumble through on their travels. Pop down to your local traders yard to see if they have any spare plastic guttering cut offs (making sure they are no sharps edges!), or perhaps your local carpet shop in search of discarded carpet inner tubes.
Rabbit Behaviour #3 – Foraging
A wild rabbit doesn’t wander over to their local feeding station when it’s hungry, or wait for mother nature to hand it a cabbage leaf – it has to work for it’s food! We are not suggesting that you leave your rabbit to fend for itself of course – it relies on you to provide them the correct diet – but making your rabbit forage for it’s food will not only keep them occupied, it will also encourage them to tap into the food gathering instincts.
There are plenty of great rabbit toys on the market you could use, but why spend the money when you have free every day items at hand!
Always make sure your rabbit has a balanced diet. You can learn more by reading ourHealthy Food Guide for Rabbits.
6. Paper bags
What could be simpler then a paper bag! Your rabbit could have hours of fun hiding away, or digging into one, but you could also use it as a foraging toy. Fill it with hay and other delicious treats, scrunch the bag into a ball and sit back and watch as your rabbit snuffles and digs around for the little pieces of reward.
7. Brown paper rolls
If you don’t have paper bags to hand, you could use brown paper and string to create a little hay salami for your rabbit, full of added treats!
8. Inner toilet and kitchen roll tubes
Better still! If you don’t have paper bags or brown paper to hand, simply stuff a toilet roll tube full of hay and treats. You could try hanging the roll too, tempting your rabbit onto to its hind legs to feed. Inner toilet rolls also act a great rabbit toy as they are, often being chucked around by a bunny who has already gobbled up the food inside.
9. Gnawing branches
Rabbits teeth continually grow throughout their lives, so giving them safe items to gnaw on will help them keep their teeth at a healthy length. Simply place or hang branches in their environment, but make sure the branches you use are safe for rabbits to ingest by checking what tree they came from as some tree species can be harmful for your rabbit.
10. Homemade treat dispenser
Just like for other pets, treat balls are a great way to make rabbits use their intelligence to get to the delicious hidden treats. They also get your rabbit moving around! You can pick up a treat ball made of plastic, willow or stainless steel fairly cheaply – however, you can also make your own. All you need is a thoroughly washed plastic bottle, a sharp knife to make a hole, some rabbit treats, and a rabbit that wants to be challenged! Simply make a hole just big enough to release a treat in the lid of the bottle, pop the treats inside and close the bottle – voila! Like with everything plastic, always make sure your rabbit doesn’t chew too much plastic away.